An enthusiastic verdict for York Courts Sense of community is out of proportion to number of residents

Neighborhood Profile

February 11, 1996|By Rosalia Scalia | Rosalia Scalia,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

The 12 three-story, five-bedroom, all-brick townhouses that constitute each of the three York Courts sit like a row of stacked square-shaped Cs along the northern reaches of Greenmount Avenue.

The Roland Park Company built the first court (the northernmost) in 1914 and completed the second and third developments several years later.

They were described as "affordable cottages" in Guilford in a 1914 newspaper ad. The original price tags for the large, sturdily constructed houses with inlaid hardwood floors, spacious rooms, high ceilings, fireplaces, and back and front porches ranged from $5,000 to $5,750.

The selling points?

Each house overlooked a large courtyard measuring 146 by 80 feet, just north of 39th Street and south of Cold Spring Lane.

"I love my house," said Sarah Carter, a 12-year resident of the oldest court. "It's big.

"It's got three floors and five bedrooms, and the front and the back of the house are like they are in two different worlds.

"The front part of the house is a city house, and the back part is so quiet it feels like a country house," she said.

"When we first moved here, we gave our son the back bedroom, but it was too quiet for him. He was used to city noises, so we had to move him to the front of the house."

According to Melvin L. Knight, a Realtor with W. H. C. Wilson & Co., "you get a lot of house for your money in York Court. There is nowhere else where you can get that much house for the price."

Like many communities where people moved in and stayed for 30 or 40 years, York Court is in transition.

Longtime elderly homeowners are leaving for retirement communities, while younger families with children are beginning to move in.

According to Barney Simpson of Coldwell Banker Grempler Realty, in the past 12 months two of the York Court houses were sold.

Five homes have sold in the past three years at an average price of $52,000.

The neighborhood is considered part of Guilford -- residents pay Guilford improvement association fees and must abide by the housing covenants; the Guilford improvement association maintains the courtyards.

But the 36 York Court houses stand like a small town, a community within a community.

Each court reflects a slightly different character, depending on the collective philosophies and lifestyles of the families within them.

"We all think our court is the best one," said Ms. Carter, a New Jersey transplant. "But as far as the whole neighborhood [of the courts], I have never lived in a place where there are so many animal lovers.

"Nearly everyone has animals and goes out of their way for animals here. This is definitely doggie heaven here."

Longtime residents Becky Russell and Connie Dillon are two such animal lovers.

Over the years, Ms. Russell has rescued a number of cats and squirrels, while Ms. Dillon has done the same for numerous stray dogs that find themselves abandoned or lost in the courtyards.

"We find good homes for the animals. First we take them to the vet to make sure they are ready to be adopted before we let them go," Ms. Dillon said.

A number of her York Court neighbors have adopted animals she has rescued.

"We all will get together and have pet showers in the courtyards for people who are adopting the animals, especially if they are first-time pet owners," said Ms. Dillon said. "We bring all the things necessary to get started as a pet owner -- food, bowls, bedding and the like, and we have a lot of fun."

While each court reflects a slightly differently personality, all the residents of the courtyard houses work together to achieve common goals.

Residents recently banded together, organizing a York Court committee headed by Bob Gray, to gain a louder voice at the Guilford improvement association meetings.

"It's working. We had our back alley plowed for the first time in 20 years," said Sharon Halm, a 16-year resident of the courts who is active on the committee.

Barbara Morrison, who moved into the community in 1980, agreed. "Since we have been organized, the improvement association has been very responsive. Before that, we were ignored," he said.

The York Court committee, which also includes the string of houses just before the courts known as the Muses in its non-Guilford related activities, also organizes annual clean-up days, collective yard sales and court-community picnics and parties.

Each courtyard grouping has a block captain who lets the neighbors know of goings-on, and one of the York Court residents produces a newsletter.

"We are like a small town. Everyone in the houses in all three courts knows each other and looks out for each other," Ms. Halm said.

Newcomer Tom Leitzell, a resident since October, said he met a lot of his neighbors during last month's blizzard. His car was stuck in the back alley, and residents helped him free the vehicle.

"The neighbors I have met are really into looking out for each other," he said.

York Court

Population: 75

Commuting time to downtown Baltimore: 15 minutes

Public schools: Guilford Elementary/Middle schools, Northern High School

Shopping: Greenmount Avenue retail shops

Nearest Mall: The Rotunda, Towson Town Center, Towson Commons

Points of Interest: Sherwood Gardens, Baltimore Museum of Art, Johns Hopkins University, Memorial Stadium, Wyman Park.

Zip Code: 21218

Average price for single-family home: $52,000.*

*Based on five sales during the past three years through Mid-Atlantic Real Estate Information Technologies Inc.

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